WTNYMay 24, 2004
Back Where I Belong
By Bryan Smith

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Last time I was at Wrigley Field, the team had a different catcher, a different first basemen, second basemen, shortstop, centerfielder, right fielder, and set-up man than they did last night. But, Wrigley is still the same, home to where my love for baseball begun, and always the best baseball park on earth.

Electric. That was my one word answer to what Wrigley Field was like last season, and that has remained over the year. Clement was in a first inning jam yesterday, and with a full count and two outs, the stadium was rocking like it was a playoff game. Sure, there are still the oblivious fans that are more worried about the fights in the mezzanine or where the nearest beer vendor is, but in crunch time there isn’t a place more fun on Earth.

Last night was a really weird day for a game, as the weather was changing all game. I drove into the city with promise of rain all around me, as clouds covered the Chicago skyline. Then as we entered Wrigleyville, the heavens cleared and the sun came out for the first time all day. But alas, it did pour about an hour before game time, despite the sun alongside it. At 7:05 the rain was long gone, but clouds darkened the place so much the lights had to be turned on. We heard there were tornado warnings at one point, and the clouds then started to turn red. But, I managed to stay dry all game, as thunderstorms managed to hit just the lake, and avoid us avid baseball fans.

I won’t go too much into the game, All-Baseball does have this one blog completely entitled to that. But, I’ll give a bit of an overview. I don’t call myself a sabermatrician by any means, I’m way too unattached for statistics for that. Sunday’s game will show why stats don’t always tell the truest tale, and while we should all remember that it’s the actual game we love, not the numbers that complement it.

People will open their newspapers today, and read Matt Clement’s line: 6 IP, 3H, 3 ER, 3BB/6K, and think he pitched well. But, I’ve seen most of Clement’s starts this year, and this was one of his worse games. The Cards could not get a beat on him, but he was not the pitcher that almost threw a no-hitter only weeks before. I’ll go as far to say that Matt Morris, the man he beat, pitched better than him. Morris struggled in the first inning, but after that was golden, simply subject to a bad offense.

Despite all the craziness in Cubdom, I went to bed last night a happy Cubs fan. Sure, Kerry suffered a setback, Sosa sneezed, and Ricky Nolasco can’t handle AAA. But heck, Moises and Aramis are hotter than a sauna, countdown to Prior is nearing, and we’re a game ahead of the Astros. But please, will someone explain to me who these Reds guys are? I mean seriously, they have a starter’s ERA nearing 5.00 (4.85)!

But I digress. This site is quickly becoming the home for young players and the minor leagues, so I’ll stick on that topic.

With that being said, there is no other way to start this entry than by saying the future is now in Kansas City. Having little other options, Allain Baird and Tony Pena decided it was time to bring up the phenom formerly known as Zack Greinke. In my Royals preview at THT, I attempted to draw comparisons on Bret Saberhagen and Greinke, and wrote this on Saberhagen:

In the June 1982 amateur draft, the Royals selected a high school pitcher named Bret Saberhagen in the nineteenth round. They sent the right-hander to their high-A affiliate in the Florida State League to start the 1983 season, and after sixteen starts there, he finished with eleven AA Southern League starts. He was 19 in 1983, and then at 20, broke in as a reliever with the Royals, getting moved into the rotation late in the 1984 season. By 1985, he was the ace.

It’s interesting that this time around, Kansas City did not take the relief route. Instead, Greinke was sent to Omaha, where he started six games before his call up. Greinke had a 2.51 ERA in 28.2 innings, which included 25 hits, six walks, 23 strikeouts and two home runs allowed. I didn’t see Greinke’s start, I really have to get MLB TV, but I heard he pitched in the low-90s with pretty good control.

Note that Saberhagen’s 1984 season was not exactly as I described it at THT. He made 38 appearances that year, 18 of them he had started. While I assumed this meant he was broke in as a reliever, Saberhagen’s role had been undefined all year long. His first start came on April 19, and he started seven in a row between April 28 and June 4. He was used sparingly until September, when his last three appearances were all starts, including a complete game shutout of the Angels. Saberhagen’s ERA was 3.48 that year, similar to what I think Greinke might do in about 20 starts this year. While I didn’t buy into this comparison much last year, the two are actually strikingly similar, and Kansas City fans should begin praying Greinke doesn’t fall victim to the same injury that Bret did.

Two other ‘prospects’ were recalled to the majors this week: Justin Morneau for the Twins and Anastacio Martinez of the Red Sox. Both had been playing great at AAA, with Morneau’s SLG and Martinez’s K/9 both alarmingly high. Morneau will get consistent playing time due to the rash of injuries on the Twins front, while Martinez will only be used in low leverage situations. Justin could be this year’s Miguel Cabrera, but that’s a topic we’ll have to explore down the road.

Speaking of the Red Sox, I noticed on the transaction page that they re-signed David Ortiz to a two-year extension, as Theo moves quickly and quietly to decide his plan for this coming off season. I’ve never been quiet about my guess, which is that Nomar returns to New England, while Pedro is left to find a home elsewhere. The team will opt not to bring Bill Mueller back, instead choosing the aging catcher Jason Varitek. That leaves the 2005 lineup as pretty similar:

C- Jason Varitek
1B- Kevin Millar
2B- Mark Bellhorn???
SS- Nomar Garciaparra
3B- Kevin Youkilis
LF- Manny Ramirez
CF- Johnny Damon
RF- Trot Nixon
DH- David Ortiz

But, Theo will be left to acquire a couple of starters, as I see only Schilling, Wakefield, and Bronson Arroyo as possible members of the rotation. Speaking of acquisitions, it was announced this week that Andrew Brown was the second half of the pot that Mark Shapiro landed for Milton Bradley in Spring Training. I might be bias (considering I met Shapiro only months ago), but this means that Cleveland beat out Paul DePodesta further in what is his first major deal as a General Manager.

First, there is Franklin Gutierrez, the main haul. He’s been everything that was promised at AA, hitting .320/.382/.458 in 153 AB, albeit a little low in homers with two. Brown did well in the Southern League, striking out a league high 58 batters in only 40.1 innings. This, mixed with a WHIP under 1.25, would make Brown a very good prospect. But, he’s allowed five home runs already, likely the reason to blame for his 4.02 ERA. There is obviously some work to do here, but Brown has the makings of a very special pitcher.

OK, here’s a quick run-down on the minor leagues:

- Right now, B.J. Upton is the top prospect in baseball. Upon promotion to AAA, Upton continues hitting, slugging four homers in his first 39 at-bats. He’s also stolen two bases in his first ten games, so it appears the Durham manager is more apt to send him than his Montgomery coach was. B.J. is special, and will be up full-time by July.
- I spent some time today thinking of a good comparison for David Wright. There have been only 29 seasons with a third basemen stealing 30 or more bases, and few mix that with power and patience. A more patient Howard Johnson or a more powerful Paul Moliter at this point, and Wright has become my second favorite prospect in baseball, behind Jeff Francis, who is still going strong thank you very much.
- In third base news, note that Andy Marte is coming on strong, raising his average to above .260 in the last week. I predicted Marte to be this year’s Miguel Cabrera, so I guess there is still a month (Cabrera debuted on 6/20) for the Braves to be convinced to call up Andy. Also, former top pick Jeff Baker of the Rockies is destroying the California League.
- Ryan Howard is leading the Eastern League in home runs, and is very attractive trade bait if you ask me. Fellow first base prospect Prince Fielder has been terrible his last ten games, which has led to his average dipping below .270. Yikes.
- Brad Thompson finally allowed a run, some time around when Chuck Tiffany threw a perfect game.
- And finally, Cole Hamels and Lastings Milledge each debuted this last week, so keep your eyes and ears open for those two.

Keep your eye on Baseball America, as they have been increasing draft coverage of late. Would anyone here really choose Niemann over Weaver or Drew at this point? Hell, I’d take Townsend over Niemann if given the choice. But I guess that’s the sabermatrician side of me.


Where did you meet Shapiro at? Ive seen him in person a few times, and ive exchanged an email with him once, he seems like he knows what hes doing in Cleveland.